A Lovely Sunday

by Raven Cassell

A tsunami of sun floods in through the wide glass wall. Lovely lies motionless resting in rumination. Yes, she’s awake. No, she isn’t tired. She is just collecting the sun in her heart, paralyzed by gratitude. Seventy-seven summers she’s seen. ‘What a gift of a day’ she breathed. The birds sound like they agree, cheepin’ and chattin’ away, like a gang of playground kids. After sitting in her smiles a while, Lovely delicately lifts her body from the bed and glides on over to the kitchen with the rhythm of a matriarch moving on over to brew her tea. It’s tea time. Her collection of herbs is comprised of leaves from her own garden, what her daughters drop off when they can and Gi’s farmer’s market pickings. Gi is her companion. He spends Sundays at the library teaching a writing class to the kids in the community.


“Weeeeeeeeeee!!” The teapot sang.


And she let the warm water rush into her big glove of a mug. This mug, a grainy sand-colored piece her grand-lady, she calls her, made. Like Grandbaby but Grand-lady. She’s a potter. Uses her hands just like her Grandma Lovely. Out of all, twenty-seven grandchildren, Grand-lady is the most Lovely-like. She’s a peculiar young woman, as sharp as the point of a blade. An astronaut. She’d been up in space for the last 3 years and made it back to Lovely about 4 months ago. She stops by on Sundays to eat midday with Grandma Lovely while they spit stories over their tea. She comes for the stories. She loves the garden too. Says one day she’ll have an Eden as well. That is, when she comes back to Earth.


“The little spacebaby, can’t keep that child out of the ether,” Lovely repeats to her girlfriends when she’s away.


But she loved her ethereal angel and loved even more that she came from her particles. Her Grand-lady.


Her tea warmed the parts of her the morning sun couldn’t reach. Even in the warmest weather, Lovely is with tea. At the breakfast table, there lives a pile of books, a cup of pens, some notepads, her pill dispenser, some loose paper and flowers from her flowerbed choked by another ceramic sculpture made at the hands of her grandlady. The paper, she always needed. She would jot down little messages, doodles, poems, jokes, questions for God, she’d scrawl the names of her six children, their twenty-seven kids and their three babies over and over. She’d record the names of her flowers, draw her house and its rooms, scribble Lovely + Gi = eternal love and seal it with a heart. She’d note things she needed to remember, things she remembered she’d done in her youth and things she wanted to live in the universe’s memory. Most mornings it was her tea and her paper.


Today, on this Sunday while her tea settles, she puts out a mug for the houseguest she’s expecting and heads outside with her fifty-year-old watering can so her plants can drink up too. She turned and opened the hose with her little body and began to sing to her succulents, prophecy over her flowers and pray for her plants. Garden of goodness, made with my two hands won’t you grow strong, won’t you grow green, won’t you nourish and won’t you please. They were to go on to live lives of beauty and healing. She pulled herbs and flowers for when the babies caught colds or when Gi’s hand cramps came back. Buried in a bunch of leaves, her mind heavy on healing and eyes filled with inspection, she heard a refreshingly familiar voice.


“Gram, you gonna come have this tea with me or what?” Her Grandlady, Zora said with some seduction followed by a hefty smile.


Lovely turned around to see her grandchild in the doorway draped in sunshine. She responded with just a  smile. She wrapped up outside and she and her watering can made their way into Zora’s embrace.


“Look at you Ms. Lady, I sure missed you.”


She sat down. Zora poured her tea and joined her. They sat in the silence that fell, it was a rather intense week for Zora. She’d been preparing a presentation for Monday where she is to present to potential research sponsors. She’d spent the last five years studying mental health during and after space excursions. It was a difficult thing for her. Because her studies required her to voyage and she, herself would experience the effects she worked to investigate and cure. Earth is hard but there are a host of woes beyond the atmosphere, too. The space radiation wearing on her body, the zero gravity wearing on her physique, the drastic shift from the holistic diet she was raised on, the fear and anxiety around survival, dealing with the changes upon return, trying to realign with who she was before the excursion and really the ever-present the guilt that lingers from her absence in family, in life and from Lovely. This is why Lovelytime is so important. It was important to learn from the master healer, herself -- continue a familial legacy. This is why Lovelytime doesn’t get postponed or rescheduled. It is both an apology and a promise.


So they sat. And soon, her Grandlady was gently lying down her questions she so desperately held this week. This time, Zora was less curious about how Lovely reached the height of her world but more curious about how she dealt with the altitude up there. She framed her questions around this research project and less about her. But Lovely knew. Lovely knows.  


Lovely began to set down a Sunday story.


“When it comes to the giving of self, Zora --” she started with great concentration. “It has to be accepted that by doing so, you are giving away bits of yourself, much like my flowers an’em back there. You think it don’t hurt a little for that aloe to break me off a piece to rub on a flaming rash? You think that for a moment, it too, ain't in crisis baby? It is, but the barrier gets together and closes back up to protect the juicy, fortifying, abundant flesh. That’s you, baby. Don’t go and turn your offering into a curse just ‘cause you got to do a little more work in protecting your flesh than most other folks. At the same time, know that part of protection is selection. You may not have it to give some days, some months or even some years.”


Zora sat up a little straighter on her seat cushion and lifted her eyes to her elder.


“Your Mama was 4,” she opened, “And I had a one-year-old AND was carryin’ ya heavy headed Uncle Boog. Your Aunty Nile was ‘bout 9 and caring for the five of them when the pregnancy had me down. Now remember, I had 5 and was boppin’ around, tendin’ to business and momin’, wa’n’t never a thing for me but this last one?! Showed me somethin’ I wasn’t too familiar with. My body, who’d carried me so far, told me to slow down. I have the highest respect for my body. So I shut down the shop for a whole 4 years, sold what I had in this garden just by folks comin’ to this house, talkin’ up with me at this little table. Ya Granddaddy taught those years, tutored -- sometimes right here at this table so our babies would know his face and know it well.”


“Picture this:  I done built this business, only until after I came back from my leave did I have folks working for me ‘nough so I can step away without the walls fallin’. I had folks coming to me with their hopes of healing on my lap. I had all these babies (now I had them because I wanted them, wanted them deeply) but I had them and they needed tending to. They deserved to smile and to see their Mama smile. So I had to turn away a lot of the folks who poured into my business -- with hopes and with dollars. But then I came back. For thirty years, three shops, five books, one organization. I can’t say I believe my garden would be this green if I hadn’t closed the gates, then.”


She stopped. She took the concluding sips of her still-warm tea.


“I’m not saying to close your gates, but just know that you can.”


Zora held a cry in her throat. Lovely touched her hand as if she were hitting a button to release the tears. She didn’t believe in the reservation of inhibitions.


Now with all of this, all of the sleep Zora lost this week and the last showed up at her door and pulled down on her eyes. She excused herself and went into her Grandmother’s bed. The sunlight was in there too but was hush enough to let her sleep. By the time Lovely peeked in, she was far, far off. Likely in space. She took a few steps in to read her. She watched her, saw herself -- pregnant and worn with the weight of a whole community sewn into her skin. Lovely found some smiles in her belly and shut the door ever so gently. Her Grandlady, she thought.  


Lovely set on her big orange sun hat and went out back to nest in her deep, orange chair. She watched the butterflies and the ants and the worms and noticed the shifts in the wind. She too drifted. Drifted from study to meditation, from meditation to sleep.


A Lovely Sunday.

In conversation Raven Cassell pertaining to the The Women That Raise Us:


"...We must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves.” - Audre Lorde. Through experience, this concept has seemed to flow into our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others, potentially, creating barriers and preventing us from building, supporting, and lifting one another. how can we transcend this construct?

I was raised by a mother who often felt like a single mother though she was not. My maternal grandmother has always been a mystical figure to me. My perception of her is purity and perfection and just so we’re clear, I am not interested in grounding that in reality. I have a big family, somewhere between 10-15 actual aunties, around 5 aunty-aged cousins and 20+ female cousins. I’m Liberian and so all of my Momma’s friends are, too, aunties. I found teachers and mentors always. I was raised by and around many women so my understanding of womanhood is not so calculated and political but rather innate, visceral and diverse. I can remember my great grandmother, Sis Charlotte, collecting an unholy amount of Dove suds on the washcloth washing our bodies with precession in the projects in NYC. I remember my mother finding roundabout ways to tell me not to sit on laps and where Uncle’s hands should and shouldn’t go. I was raised by family but I was also raised by the village. It was my best friends mother, a New York Sports Club trainer who introduced the world of health and wellness to me, that didn’t exist in my household. Ms. Weston, a counselor at my high school instilled professionalism in me in 9th grade — she taught me how to go out and get a job. I’m still being raised. By the Ella Fitzgeralds, the Nina Simones, the Adrienne Maree Browns, the Zora Neal Hurstons, the Ntozake Shanges and the Domonique Morriseaus. I have a spirit that attracts more feminine energy, surely. I have a wide circle of sisters and they, too, are my teachers. I possess a generous amount of masculine energy I like to believe. I’m very attracted to the merging of the masc and femme energies. There is limitless power there.

"I’m still being raised. By the Ella Fitzgeralds, the Nina Simones, the Adrienne Maree Browns, the Zora Neal Hurstons, the Ntozake Shanges and the Domonique Morriseaus. I have a spirit that attracts more feminine energy, surely. I have a wide circle of sisters and they, too, are my teachers."



In what ways can we, as a community, release the stereotypical negative perspectives and ideas of women of color and their roles? How can we transcend these constructs and deepen the interpersonal / intrapersonal relationships with women of color?


I think stereotypes are instilled in us through our education system where they only humanize a particular kind of person. That’s the private schools, the charter schools and most especially the public schools. By leaving out the images and stories of folks of color, we are planting fear and ignorance. Imagine if the material we teach presented folks of color, black folks as whole and dimensional? White kids too, need to grow up in that truth.


Some black kids are lucky enough to have had parents who had the tools and capacity to bring those images and conversations into their homes early on. I did not have that as a child of immigrants. There were other ways in which my identity was validated but the race conscious perspective didn’t exist in my home because my parents came from a place where everyone was black and they hadn’t had the African American experience. I went and found those things out in the world on my own. This is why I teach.


With that being said, I want to address stereotypes in art making. I personally am not hung up on stereotypes. I’m a writer. If I let myself get hung up on a stereotype I’d never write a word in fear of wearing stereotypes or dressing my characters in stereotypes. That notion is very insignificant to me now, I think because the most interesting nuggets can be found when you either go toward stereotypes or resist them. I do understand that may entrap some. I offer this ever so sophisticated advice: the practice of not giving a shit. Really. Any and everything one does can be perceived as stereotypical and so what does that mean? That means I won’t eat the entire guts out of my watermelon?! You must’ve bumped yo head! I will eat my watermelon and eat it whole. If I am on the other end of poor customer service, my Staten Island is exposed and I will advocate for myself whether and maybe someone perceives me as mad and black. On the other hand, oftentimes my behavior, my lifestyle and my capabilities shatter folks’ idea of who I should be. I am an African Spanish speaking, traveling, dramatist. Depending on where I am in the world, that’ll disrupt some folks’ containers they’ve put me in. And I too, stereotype, it is quite human but the key is to not be tied to the quick, face value assumptions and always be curious enough to allow people to tell you who they are. I think when it comes to releasing ourselves from stereotypes, being connected to spirit frees you — however it is you do so. I believe deeply you will truly know what you are to be doing in this life, in your existence and then: doesn’t the idea of being preoccupied with a stereotype sound trivial? I think to find transcendence one must not be in the frame of mind of those still on the ground. To transcend is to rise above in spirit-like fashion, beyond human understanding. So to try to relate to humanistic structures in a state of transcendence is regressive and contradictory.

What are your thoughts on women of color being hyper-visible and yet invisible (ignored, unheard, unfelt) in society and/or their own communities?


I don’t know that I believe black women are invisible. I seek out black shit. I think before we say things like we are invisible ask ourselves are we searching for black women’s material? And when we say invisible, we mean invisible to whom? I sees us! As we work to dismantle the education system, we also cannot wait for it. We must educate ourselves so we can educate our children. I do hope that the public school system is reformed but I also cannot wait for it. As a teaching artist my presence in the public school is fleeting but I will offer these seeds during my time. As an auntie, I have to offer the brilliance to our seeds. That is the responsibility.


When it’s time for me to find new dramatic literature I will type into Google “Black female playwrights” Then I will buy and study their work. I will watch their interviews and keep a list of the writers they mention and search, buy and study their work. We are here! Always been. We, and black folks that means you, need to stand behind that work, that’s how the work can advance and reach. Every time when we are in a position of power: spending our dollar, holding a mic or being a mentor, we must make ourselves seen.


There are also a heavy handful of Black institutions whose sole purpose is to preserve and foster black art and literature. To depend on a mainstream culture (that I don’t even identify with) to feed me is outrageous, irresponsible and contradictory. If we are ignored, disrespected, unheard or unfelt it only matters to me when it is done by the folks for which the work was made. I don’t know that I desire or expect whiteness to consume our culture or do so properly or responsibly. Here’s a list of resources I use often that house and produce work by brilliant black folks.


- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture - Library and public programming

- Stony Island Arts Bank - hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center

- Free Black Women’s Library -  interactive mobile trading library and interactive biblio installation

- Black Market Vintage - a collection comprised of black curiosities, cast-off's and collectibles

- Weeksville Heritage Center - is a historic site, public programming at the intersection of history and art

- Sunu Journal -  Journal of African affairs, critical thought + aesthetics

- National Black Theater - Theater institution

- Studio Museum of Harlem - American art museum devoted to the work of artists of African descent

- Nataal Media - New global media brand


How can we lift each other, while we still climb as individuals? How can this become an ongoing practice?


I mean first, we have to acknowledge the competitive nature of who we’ve capitalized and socialized ourselves to be and begin to practice other ways of being. There is only one teacher, one King and Queen, one Student of the Month. There is only one first prize. From very young we begin competing with one another. I am by nature, competitive. I am an athlete and if I am not competing with another person, I’m likely competing with self. I love that about myself and I think there can be healthy ways to exist in the spirit of competition. But at the same time I see that now, we are so desperately reaching to be the one at the top we are not realizing that there is no onward if we are lone up there, at the top. There is no one to ask for a hand, to keep company or to admire the view with. We must all ascend. It’s a hard thing to shake for me, you know. As glorious as people can be, the can also be a drag and so the quick fix for that is isolation. But that is not where I want to be, isolated. I long for a healthy community. The operative word: healthy. Adrienne Maree Brown’s glorious book, Emergent Strategy points out an example of biomimicry that speaks to this: that when one ant finds food, they do not keep it to themselves, they let the colony know where they found it so the whole community can eat. I like to look to biomimicry when I am pushing to imagine alternative ways of being. I’ve spent a great deal of time immersed in nature just watching and listening and trusting. It teaches you profound ideas that I don’t know if I could find looking at humans. She talks a lot about fractals, a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales, created by repeating a simple process over and over. From the small to the large. Micro reflecting the macro. So these really huge socio-political theories are weak and unsustainable if they don’t show up in your personal relationships. Show up for your people. The ones you know. Not just (fist up) your people.

Where were you mentally, physically, emotionally, when the piece was created?

I wrote A Lovely Sunday in search of a sense of light and warmth. It’s set in the not-so-far future. Grandma Lovely could be myself or one of my girlfriends 50 years from the now. I wanted to explore what it would look to be an elderly millennial. One who came upon self-care and self-preservation culture, what future is promised for us. What it may look like when a brown girl enters the work world truly having access to all in this universe? What new feats arise, now that we have reached the stars? We are not our race struggles and it brings me solace to imagine outside of that. I write these stories because my agency lies in the stories I decide to birth and the narratives I foster in my imagination. I believe the imagination is not out of our control. It is, in fact, fueled by what we feed our minds and how we challenge ourselves to push our thinking. I think that it is a very active and conscientious occurrence, that the imagination has to be trained and stretched like anything else. Very often I sit with myself drawing up possibilities of the world I would like to see and I forget all restraints in order to find another more harmonious world I can then sketch-up. This exercise has always shown up in my process and I use my teaching artistry to invite young people to do the same. 

"We are not our race struggles and it brings me solace to imagine outside of that."

Raven Cassell: Rooted in the art and investigation of storytelling, Raven Cassell is an actor, writer, educator and explorer. Her short stories and plays call on history and step into the future in order to imagine and practice more harmonious ways of being. As a teaching artist, she uses theater to practice storytelling as therapy and is now exploring the intersection between anthropology and performance as a means to teach cultural preservation. Music and visual arts are aids in her process and she doesn’t go a day without practicing Spanish. Raven has an unending appetite for books, movies and TV. She’s a city gal with a jungle soul and loves a lengthy conversation.


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